British Columbia

New app turns bystanders into potential lifesavers

B.C. now has an app that will alert bystanders attend to people in need of CPR.

Cardiac arrest survivor helps launch new app that alerts nearby CPR-trained bystanders

Cardiac arrest is a killer that a new smartphone app aims to combat by alerting bystanders when it occurs in a public place. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Rob Macdonald wouldn't have been alive today if it wasn't for chance. 

On Jan.17, the 49-year-old father of three went into cardiac arrest in a dressing room at Pitt Meadows Arena after a hockey game. 

His teammates called 911, but none of them recognized the signs of cardiac arrest nor did they know how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), an emergency procedure that uses chest compressions to mimic a heartbeat. 

It just happened that a player from the opposing team was walking by and alerted his teammate, Bruce Moffat. 

Bruce Moffat (right) came to see Ron Macdonald a week after he saved his life. Macdonald suffered cardiac arrest — when the heart suddenly stops beating — while playing hockey on Jan. 17, and Moffat, a paramedic, saved his life. (Ron Macdonald)

Moffat, a critical care flight paramedic with 35 years experience, sprung into action until first responders arrived 13 minutes later. 

Without immediate help, brain damage starts within 3 minutes of cardiac arrest. 

"I could've been in the dressing room right next door and he would've passed away," said Moffat. 

The PulsePoint app walks bystanders through what to do and shows users a map pinpointing the location of nearby portable public defibrillators. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Now, a new smartphone app called PulsePoint aims to prevent missed lifesaving opportunities by alerting users when somebody is in cardiac arrest in a public place nearby. 

"It can turn every one of us from a bystander to a potential life saver," said Linda Luipini, executive vice-president of Provincial Health Services Authority and B.C. Emergency Health Services.

The survival rate for cardiac arrest patients is about 10 per cent in the province, saysLuipini.

She said that even an untrained bystander stepping in to perform CPR can significantly increase a victim's chance of recovery.

"Anything you do at all, in terms of chest compressions... is better than doing nothing."

"You can double or triple somebody's chances by just doing some chest compressions to get some oxygenated blood through their system," she said.

Without immediate help, a victim of sudden cardiac arrest will suffer brain damage within three minutes. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"When someone experiences sudden cardiac arrest and a 911 call is made to us, trained bystanders with PulsePoint will be alerted and will be able to spring into action. They can provide CPR while paramedics and our first responders are on the way," Luipini explained. 

The app will notify bystanders who are within walking distance of the victim of a sudden cardiac arrest, about a 400-metre radius. 

The app does not keep records on who gets the alerts or responds to them and it only reports events occurring in public places. 

Luipini said that under the Good Samaritan act, civilians cannot be held liable for any additional harm if they do step in to help.

Emergency services says the smartphone alert could also save lives by showing users a map pinpointing the location of nearby portable public defibrillators.The app also has CPR how-to and a compression rate beat for users to follow along. 

B.C. is the first in Canada to offer the program province-wide.

Linda Luipini, executive vice-president of the Provincial Health Services Authority and B.C. Emergency Health Services, said the app essentially crowdsources CPR. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Macdonald's wife, Kristie, said they're forever grateful to Moffat for saving her husband's life. 

"We could never repay him. So we hope that we can pay it forward by improving the rate that people take CPR and do bystander CPR in the community," she said. 

Last year, paramedics responded to 7,101 cardiac arrests. Bystanders performed CPR in approximately 25 per cent of those cases.  

In 2017, B.C. Health Emergency Services' paramedics responded to 7, 101 cardiac arrests. Bystanders performed CPR in 25 per cent of those cases. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)